A permaculture garden is a paradise

September 20, 2006 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      When I went to visit Suzette Lazotte’s permaculture garden, she gave me her address and detailed directions how to get there.  But I wouldn’t have needed either.  Just the name of the street would have been enough – her yard is very different from her neighbors’. 

      The bulk of Suzette’s yard is filled with densely placed plants mulched with wood chips and marsh hay.  Every available spot holds a plant with some purpose, and most plants have more than one purpose.  For example, vetch, indigo, lupine and wild senna all have flowers which attract pollinating insects to nearby food crops and they are all able to capture nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil to fertilize adjacent plants.  At my mid-summer visit, a bed of just germinated lettuce was tucked into the shade of tall sunflowers, while everyone else’s lettuce had long since bolted and gone to seed.

      Permaculture, or permanent (agri)culture, means working with natural forces – wind, sun, and water – to provide food, shelter, water and other needs with minimum labor and without depleting the land. 

      One of Suzette’s primary goals in having a permaculture garden is to grow her family’s food closer to home, thus saving the resources involved in shipping, refrigeration and packaging.  She stresses that her objective isn’t to grow everything her family needs, but to grow what she can and then make an effort to buy locally from farmer’s markets for the rest.

      A basic premise of permaculture is to recognize the interrelationship between plants, animals, insects and humans.  The key is to select plants that have more than one function.  For example, a grape arbor attracts pollinators, can provide cover or a nesting spot for birds, provides shade for other plants or the home or patio, and produces fruit for humans and birds.  The leaves fall to the earth and are composted.  The vines can be used to make wreaths or other crafts.  The gardener’s responsibility in this web is to not use pesticides on the grapes that will harm the birds and insects that live there. 

      Water conservation is another important premise of permaculture gardening.  To retain moisture, Suzette lays down corrugated cardboard as a mulch and then covers it with marsh hay or wood chips.  She digs holes through this mulch when she wants to plant something.  During the dry month of July, she had watered only once, and her yard was a lush paradise while her neighbors’ lawns were crispy and brown.

      The beauty of permaculture is that you don’t have to embrace every principle and practice and you don’t need 40 acres to get started.  The principles can be applied even if your garden is just an apartment balcony.  You can pick and choose what appeals to you or what you feel able to do and know that you are making a start toward living in harmony with nature.

      There are many good books on permaculture and much good information on the internet.  One very interesting and well-written book is “Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway.

Gardening techniques and toolsMiscellaneousOrganic gardening

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